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New class of muscle car

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Hot-shot Dodge Durango R/T exceeds keeping up appearances

Aggressive good looks. Comfortable, sporty-styled cabin. Confident handling. Plenty of power from a burbling V-8.

Is this some kind of American muscle car? Actually, it is, in way.

Dodge imbues a sort of pony-car attitude in its midsize Durango crossover SUV, especially in the hot R/T model, this week’s test vehicle.

With its muscular styling, augmented by our tester’s blacked-out, gaping grill and black, 20-inch alloy wheels of the Blacktop Package, the R/T demands attention, particularly when swathed in retina-searing Redline Pearl paint.

But the brawny looks don’t lie. There’s plenty inside and under the Durango to back up the promise of performance.

Starting with the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. This is Chrysler Corp.’s go-to powerplant for a number of cars and trucks, from hot sedans to performance coupes to hard-working pickup trucks. And it’s a gem. With 360 horsepower and a deep, 390 pound-feet well of torque, it propels the 5,100-pound crossover with alacrity, accompanied by an all-American soundtrack only a V-8 can produce.

Driving the rear wheels (four-wheel drive optional) through the standard solid-shifting, six-speed automatic transmission, the R/T ramps up to highway speeds with ease. Passing maneuvers, confidently executed, belie the truck’s size and weight.

Power and poundage do take a toll on fuel economy: Around town, expect 14 mpg, while on the open road you might see 20 mpg.

The sport-tuned suspension delivers handling prowess and ride quality quite beyond expectations, due in part to leftover legacy DNA from those days Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler spent merged in a hapless marriage.

The steering, too, is surprisingly responsive and communicative, giving the Durango an easy maneuverability.

The interior is graced with upgraded materials on most surfaces. The simply styled dash features easy-to-read gauges with red accents, while most secondary controls and switches are logically located and organized.

Red stitching extends the sporty theme to seats, armrests, doors and steering wheel. The front sport-style buckets are superbly comfortable. Our tester featured optional second-row, fold-and-tumble captain’s chairs, while the spacious third-row bench is surprisingly easy to access.

A full panoply of techy safety features, navigation, audio, upgraded leather and additional luxury amenities pushed the price to $43,555. But plenty of SUVs offer a lot less for a lot more.

Dodge’s Durango far outpaces expectations.